ELKO – Friday morning begins day two of a case brought to the courts almost five years after the murder of Stephanie Gonzalez. Eduardo Estrada-Puentes, 34, appeared Thursday in the new Elko Justice Courtroom on a charge of open murder for allegedly strangling his estranged wife.
The first day of the proceeding focused on the events leading up to and the murder of Gonzalez. Additionally, it told the story of a morning that began in Elko for Estrada-Puentes and ended in Tucson, Arizona.
Lidia Cortes, who has become a proponent against domestic violence in the time following her daughter’s death, was the first witness called to the stand.
Her testimony, and the three others following, allowed the prosecution – led by Chad Thompson and David Buchler – and the defense – of David Lockie and Sherburne Macfarlan – to attempt to establish the sequence of events occurring the morning of Gonzalez’s death.
Cortes told the court the family had planned a trip to Wild Horse Reservoir but Gonzalez was not to accompany them.
Gonzalez, said Cortes, stayed at the family’s home that night. The next morning she had a bad feeling before Gonzalez left to go to the trailer she previously shared with Estrada-Puentes and their children to retrieve her work uniform.
Cortes said she never heard from her daughter again.
At that time, Gonzalez worked at Scoreboard Sports Bar & Restaurant.
Estrada-Puentes took the three children to Tucson, Arizona, where he was staying with family. They returned early on June 24.
D’Srey stayed with her mother at Cortes’ house the night of June 24, 2011. The younger children, K’iawna and Andres, went with Estrada-Puentes.
Cortes explained to the court she became worried when her granddaughter D’Srey was crying in her car because she could not reach her mom.
It was already surprising Gonzalez let the child go with the family as she usually did not let any of them out of her sight, testified Cortes, her husband Crisoforo and D’Srey.
Cortes affirmed Gonzalez retrieved paperwork the same week to initiate her divorce with Estrada-Puentes.
However, a turning point came when Cortes described the days and weeks following the death of Gonzalez.
“All I told them was their mom wasn’t coming back,” she said to the attorneys.
After a brief recess, Cortes described how K’iawna, now 9, told her Gonzalez was dead and Estrada-Puentes had killed her.
K’iawna told Cortes there was a lot of yelling in the trailer on Garcia Lane and her mom yelled, “No Eduardo, no.”
A couple of weeks later the young child drew pictures of her mother with a spot around her nose that was blood.
She also told Cortes that Estrada-Puentes dragged Gonzalez.
“My mom was very overprotective,” said D’Srey, 14, explaining she usually received a text from her mother every two hours while she was at the reservoir where water and all-terrain vehicles were.
“I didn’t get a text from her all day,” she said.
D’Srey tried to call her father but he did not answer. She did receive a call from her paternal grandmother asking where she was, as her brother and sister had been dropped off at her house.
The 14-year-old also told the court that her sister described the scene, a little later, by demonstrating with a stuffed bear how her mother was dragged on the floor, pulled by her hair.
Andres was put in another room and said the same thing to his aunt Shania Cortes.
“I remember my dad yelling at my mom,” said K’iawna, explaining to the court he repeatedly called her a bitch.
Gonzalez yelled his name about three times, she said.
The 9-year-old, who spoke via a video conference from an upstairs jury room, said she and her brother Andres were in their parents’ bedroom and Estrada-Puentes had shut the door.
After a great deal of yelling, there was silence for about five minutes.
K’iawna’s testimony, like a great deal of the others, illustrated the time that has passed between the tragedy and when Estrada-Puentes was brought to court.
After telling family members and a social worker, in a recorded conversation, that she saw her mother being dragged, K’iawna told the court she did not see that.
“After I called my dad, I called my mom because I didn’t want to believe she was dead,” she said in explaining the situation after she had been taken to her paternal grandparent’s house.
Thompson asked K’iawna if she remembered previously saying “Dad had used his hands, but there wasn’t any blood on the carpet.”
She said she did not see Estrada-Puentes touch Gonzalez, she only heard them.
Both of Lidia Cortes’ younger children Shania and Nicolas said they did not recall much because of the time gone by.
As the testimonies continued, not only members of the family spoke to the court but also acquaintances of Estrada-Puentes and Gonzalez.
One of those witnesses was social worker Pamela Sheets, who works for child and family services. In her interview with K’iawna, the child said Estrada-Puentes said to Gonzalez, “You are dead,” in a threatening manner.
She also described K’iawna as “avoidant.” The child tried to change the subject with her at times and said she did not see anything when questioned.
Other witnesses included Diane Emery, in 2011 a manager at Scoreboard, who addressed the question of Gonzalez’s work uniform and her punctuality.
“She (Gonzalez) considered 7:30 (a.m.) to be late,” said Emery, who recognized immediately that the victim did not show up for work that morning.
After speaking to a Garcia Lane neighbor and Estrada-Puentes’ father, who claimed to not know answers to most of the questions asked by the prosecution, the focus of the proceedings turned from Gonzalez’s disappearance and murder to Estrada-Puentes’ actions on June 25, 2011.
Raul Becerra Haro, who was dating Estrada-Puentes’ cousin at the time, was asked and agreed to drive Estrada-Puentes that Saturday morning to the Salt Lake City airport.
On the way there, Estrada-Puentes allegedly spoke to a woman about a bank account, said Becerra, a Spanish speaker who could only make out "bank" because it is like the word in her language.
The testimonies of Aubrey Clack and Ricardo Estrada shed light on Estrada-Puentes' journey to Elko and out of the United States.
Clack’s car was the Chevrolet Malibu found by Elko Police at the Sunrise Apartment complex. She said Estrada-Puentes drove it to Elko because the air conditioning was broken in his vehicle.
Clack said Tucson, Arizona, is about two to two-and-a-half hours from the Mexican border.
Clack and Ricardo Estrada were at a casino, with her aunt, in Tucson on June 25. After leaving, Ricardo Estrada was to get food and meet her at their home. He met her, but without the food.
He told Clack that Estrada-Puentes called him from the airport to pick him up. However, the pair’s story differs.
Clack said Estrada-Puentes was left at a bus stop on Valencia Avenue in Tucson. Ricardo Estrada said his brother said he was going on a trip to California.
Ricardo Estrada said he dropped him off in a neighborhood where he was going to be picked up and “hang out with some chick.”
Estrada-Puentes said about $8,000 would be transferred into his brother’s account. The transfer was never made as Gonzalez’s cousin Vanessa Villegas did not receive all the necessary information to make the transfer.
Villegas was asked to open a bank account in her name for Gonzalez and Estrada-Puentes. He asked for it to be liquidated on that June day.
“He needed it to be done because he was running out of money,” she said about her conversation with the accused.
As the wire transfer did not go through, the money was given to Lidia Cortes for Gonzalez’s children.
According to Free Press files, the amended criminal complaint on a charge of open murder was filed Sept. 27, 2011, and can include first-degree murder and all lesser included offenses.
According to NRS, sentencing for first-degree murder can include life without parole; life with a 20-year minimum for parole; or 50 years with a minimum of 20 years for parole.
Soon after the killing, Estrada-Puentes fled to Mexico.
With the help of the FBI and Mexican federal authorities, he was located and arrested in the State of Jalisco. Estrada-Puentes spent last year in custody in Mexico City, where he underwent extradition hearings.
The preliminary hearing under Justice of the Peace Mason Simons will last approximately two days, after which it will be determined if Estrada-Puentes should be bound over for trial.
More than two dozen witnesses are scheduled to testify, including family members and law enforcement.